About the SA Blog Network

Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology

Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct
Tetrapod Zoology Home

STOP ‘feeding’ the ducks

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

Sorry for the silence here at Tet Zoo – Eotyrannus is keeping me busy, and no time for blog-writing. In desperation, I wanted to share this, originally posted on ver 2 in 2009.

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in Britain there is a very entrenched tradition of ‘feeding the ducks’. People go on walks (usually at the weekend) to ponds or lakes, and they take with them bagfuls of bread (sometimes even whole loaves). They then proceed to throw all the bread into the water. After a while the ducks and other birds at the pond or lake get bored or full, and they stop eating it (see photo, taken over the weekend at Southampton Common’s Cemetary Lake). Then more people come and throw in more bread. More people come, and they throw in more bread. Then more, and so on and on. On any given day, the most popular ‘duck ponds’ are polluted by, literally, kilos of bread.

Tame Brown rat, photographed right next to the lake shown in the photo above.

By now it’s well known that this behaviour is damaging to the ducks, and also to the welfare of ponds and lakes. Bread is bad for ducks as, apparently, they have trouble digesting it. As a result of all that rotting bread, and of the loads of droppings produced by an unnaturally high concentration of ducks, water quality degrades so much that the pond dies. The most popular ‘duck ponds’ are all entirely devoid of macroscopic life: no plants except for algae, and certainly no animals. Rats must think all of this is great, as whole families can usually be found living adjacent to these ponds. They become tame and unafraid of people and live on nothing but bread.

I know that the people who ‘feed the ducks’ think that they’re being kind. It’s also, for many people, one of the few (perhaps the only) interactions they have with wild animals. But you don’t have to have a phd in zoology to see that it’s a crap idea, and that it’s really, really, really time to stop.

Remember to follow me on twitter (@TetZoo) – in fact, I’ve been live-tweeting progress on the Eotyrannus monograph at #Eotyrannus. Tomorrow (Jan 21st) is Tet Zoo’s birthday.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Rights & Permissions

Comments 9 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. Maija Karala 6:49 am 01/20/2012

    Thanks! I’m forwarding this for more people to see. It’s (I hope) obvious that throwing kilos of bread to a pond is not a good thing, but that bread is not healthy for the birds to begin with is much less known.

    Since people are not going to stop feeding ducks anytime soon, and where I live, overfeeding is not so much of a problem, what would be a better alternative for bread?

    Link to this
  2. 2. John Harshman 1:38 pm 01/20/2012

    We have the same thing going on here, though it doesn’t seem to be as big a problem. Less concentrated population? Less popular practice?

    But couldn’t you have picked a photo with something more interesting than just mallards?

    Link to this
  3. 3. naishd 4:42 pm 01/20/2012

    All the other birds got eaten by the rats.


    Link to this
  4. 4. Halbred 5:59 pm 01/20/2012

    I love feeding ducks, but I do it with duck feed purchased at a mill & feed store. The ducks absolutely love it, and there are enough ducks in gaggles here that it’s all eaten up and they usually want more. The funniest thing to me is that, after just a few days of doing this, the ducks begin anticipating your arrival. Back when I did this regularily, the ducks began recognizing my CAR and started lining up at the shore by the time I got out.

    Ducks are great. But don’t feed them bread–feed them proper duck feed.

    Link to this
  5. 5. HowardRichards 2:47 pm 01/21/2012

    The last time I did anything like this was feeding the carp in the pond at the University of Tokyo. Since then I’ve seen several stories about bread being bad for birds. How about fish?

    Link to this
  6. 6. Grumpyoleman 9:16 pm 01/23/2012

    Bread is bad enough for humans much less ducks. Wheat is not a natural human food and we have suffered the consequences, such as diabetes II for 10,000 years.

    Here in South Texas people feed the gulls and terns by tossing a bread piece into the air and watching a bird catch it. Kids love it and I believe it fosters a love of birds and nature. I don’t see a lot of fat sea birds so I don’t think we are overdoing it.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Sean McCann 11:29 pm 01/23/2012

    I go out rat feeding instead. Cuts out the middleman:

    Link to this
  8. 8. accipiter 1:35 pm 01/26/2012

    BUT what if the ducks were to start taking this bad habit of their own???

    Link to this
  9. 9. dshubble 5:54 am 02/9/2012

    There is another opportunity for urban wildlife interaction which is to buy chips and try to eat them near the flocks of gulls in Southampton. The gulls are not shy of ‘interacting’ the chips from your hand whether you offer them or not.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article